Martha Payne is nine years old. She’s an active blogger who has gained a great deal of publicity and fame by posting everyday about her school dinners. For those of you who hail from overseas, i should mention that school meals are something of an institution in the UK. The details are hazy to me, but essentially every child gets a meal that generally looks like something you’d buy from a cheap truck stop. We have spent the last couple of years in much hand wringing and wailing about how dreadful they are and how it’s probably better to include the odd salad. Anyway, i digress. Martha writes a few words about her meal everyday and also scores it for health (as well as, oddly, recording how many mouthfuls it take to eat and how many pieces of hair were in it.
Until today that is, when she was taken out of her maths class and told to stop taking photos of her meal. Now, i should point out that, before i launch into a defence of freedom of speech, her father is quick to point out that the school have been incredibly supportive of her efforts. Indeed, i believe that the whole venture started as an exercise that they encouraged. And did i mention that she’s had over two million hits and raised over £2000 for her chosen charity, which is an achievement far beyond anything i’ve ever managed with this blog.
The whole incident is naturally a typical foul up by mid level council employees who have failed to realise that their politically savvy bosses will immediately abandon them and call for the reinstatement of her ability to photograph her lunch. Indeed, already people are rallying to her defence.
What i’m most interested in is how this highlights the way in which social media have created a broadcast channel that an eight year old girl has filled, and how the organisation around her has totally failed to address the issues that it raises.
Just to be clear, my thoughts are this: an eight year old girl has the wit, intelligence and support from family and school to create a blog that speaks about socially relevant issues and attracts over two million hits. For her individually, this represents an achievement (not to mention opportunity) that could literally change her life. Her achievements should be recognised and rewarded.
Taking someone out of class to stop this activity is shameful. Even if more control were needed to, for example, ensure the photos didn’t show other children, this should have been dealt with alongside her parents.
The only correct response to her achievement is to celebrate it and to use it to encourage others. We should all be thinking what we can learn from this, individually and institutionally. The school should be congratulated for being brave enough to embrace the technology and for recognising the potential for learning, as well as equipping their students with invaluable skills.
There are doubtless challenges involved when formal and informal worlds collide, but they cannot be avoided through blunt command and control mechanics. And they certainly can’t be hammered like this with a child. The council should take a serious look at how to support and engage with the schools and parents who clearly have a better grip on the skills and abilities that a twenty first century student should be developing.